It’s not always easy coming to terms with being a grown up — especially if you’re a grown up who has enjoyed living the rock n’ roll lifestyle for much of your life.
But luckily for singer, songwriter and guitarist Brady Rymer, growing up hasn’t meant giving up on his music.
This Sunday, “Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could” (which includes Claudia Mussen and Chris Roselli), comes to the Bay Street Theatre to perform the group’s unique brand of roots inspired tunes for both children and adults.
A little more than a decade ago, Rymer was firmly entrenched in the rock scene in New York City. As a member of “From Good Homes” — a band that included musicians Rymer had played with during his high school days in rural New Jersey — Rymer and his band mates gained some notoriety by playing clubs up and down the East Coast. Then came the release of the group’s 1995 CD “Open Up The Sky” for RCA records. The band soon found themselves touring the country and opening for the likes of Bob Dylan, David Crosby, Bob Weir and David Byrne.
If you had asked Rymer back then if he ever envisioned himself performing for children, his response would have been, “Not at all.”
In 1998, not long after the release of their second CD, the group parted ways with RCA. By this time, Rymer was married and had a small child. Living downtown in New York City, performing by night and sleeping by day may work for a bachelor rock star, but it doesn’t always jive with family life and while some of the band members talked about revamping the band, Rymer felt the time was right to move on.
“I think the band had kind of run its course regardless of life changes involved with those of us in the band,” says Rymer. “We were dropped by RCA, we were coming down the other side of that hill. Thank God we were nice to everyone going up, it wasn’t nice playing that same club that it was now only 70 percent full when there had been lines around the block before.”
“We were used to getting pumped up at night, and hanging around during the day,” he adds. “For good or bad we were in this bubble. It took a little time to turn the schedule around. What didn’t change was plopping down with my guitar to write.”
So Rymer made the transition from a touring rock musician into a children’s recording artist. It happened organically, through the process of becoming a father, he notes, when he found himself writing songs about what he was noticing as a new parent, and what his children were experiencing as new people.
“Basically the first CD was a gift — the expression of that time in my family’s life,” explains Rymer. “I didn’t know there was a children’s market, and I wasn’t writing songs for other kids to enjoy. It was more of new family and a new child. I started giving CDs out.”
In the years since his first CD — “Good Morning, Gus” — in 2000, Rymer has gained a good deal of attention for his kid inspired music. In 2003, his second CD “Look at my Belly!” won a National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) Gold Medal and earlier this year, his newest record, “Here Comes Brady Rymer and the Little Band that Could” was nominated for a Grammy.
With such acclaim comes a following, and while Rymer spends his time these days touring the country for daytime — not nighttime — shows, the Bay Street gig, it turns out is literally in his own backyard. Rymer, his wife Bridget, and their children Gus and Daisy live on the East End — just across the bay, in Southold.
The North Fork is a far cry from the life they led in the city. But having a family can often make you do these sorts of things. In 2000, the Rymers bought a house that had once been a brothel and a speakeasy, complete with a separate room for dances with a stage.
“It took us two years to become attached, make adjustments and come out here full time,” says Rymer. “We had been in the city since we were young, then with two kids, it didn’t match up for us anymore. We would take the kids out of this big expansive place on the North Fork at the end of the weekend and go back to city.”
Gus is now 12 and Daisy is 10, and as they have grown, so too has Rymer’s musical repertoire. He feels it appeals to children as young as babies and as old as sixth graders. And though he admits it seems like an awfully large age range, he can attest to his band’s ability to win over even the most sullen tween. True, adult audiences can be tough, but never underestimate the ability of kids to let you know what they really think.
“One time, a group of second graders gave us the Roman thumbs down after just four bars,” says Rymer. “I don’t deal with it or confront it, I just play. Then three songs in, they gave the thumbs up and were having a good time.”
“You need positive energy, it comes down to that,” adds Rymer. “A high spirit, positive thing connects — it’s like walking into a room with a smile on your face and saying ‘hi’ to someone.”
“I guess kids like it because I’m not overly silly. There’s a lot of humor and an effort to connect,” he adds. “If kids see people doing what they like to do, I don’t think it needs to be said. You show through doing it. I’ve seen that break down barriers with all ages. If I bring the band to a school there might be a sixth grader with his arms folded. Then after while they start to get into it.”
No matter the age of the audience, getting into it, notes Rymer, is the key. In fact, it was a Bruce Springsteen show at Shea stadium that first gave him the inspiration to pursue kid’s music in just that way.
“It smacked me on the head. Sixty thousand people were singing ‘Shake It Up Baby,’” recalls Rymer. “It was spiritual and special. Why can’t a family show have that? I thought this isn’t new, this is what you’ve been doing your whole life.”
When it comes to subject matter for his songs, Rymer chooses to focus on the simple moments and things kids can relate to — like the day his daughter had a mouthful of animal crackers and he remarked how she had just bitten an elephant in half. Rymer doesn’t forget the parents either, and has been known to sing about early morning mommies who haven’t had their coffee yet. In another song he tells the tragic story of a dad who accidentally ran over the backyard bouncy castle with the lawn mower.
“It really should speak to both kids and adults, but not be forced,” says Rymer. “Luckily for me I haven’t tried to change the musical things. I have to keep myself happy and inspired. Hopefully the music is reminiscent of James Brown, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan — and hopefully it will communicate to parents.”
“I have also found it really makes my job easier to not have the room split with the kids up front and grown ups in back,” notes Rymer. “One group expects a baby-sitter. I say, ‘No, we’re going to do this together.’”
Not everything has changed for Brady Rymer. Though he’s still touring and making music his way, Rymer is on a schedule that he finds much more in keeping with family life.
“Luckily the shows are mostly on the weekends — usually they’re in the morning. So we have traveled around the country as a family,” he says. “Now it’s just a jump to a place, like a performing arts center that has subscribers and fans. A lot of times we can bring our kids and turn it into a family adventure — we’ve been to Boston, Washington D.C., San Francisco and Baltimore.”
“I try to turn it into more of an experience,” adds Rymer. “My kids love being back stage — and they trash the dressing rooms more than we ever did as rock stars.”
“Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could” performs on Sunday, November 1 at 3 p.m. at Bay Street Theatre on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor. Tickets are $15 ($12 for children) and can be purchased online at www.baystreet.org or by calling 725-9500.
Above: Gus, Bridget, Daisy and Brady Rymer at home on the North Fork. Randee Daddona photo.